Graffiti had long covered the walls of the Allapattah YMCA in Miami, and Cristina von Lindenberg, executive director, was tired of it.

After enlisting some artists to create murals on neighborhood walls, she got kids from the Y to help. Painting murals soon gave way to cleaning up the streets and planting trees. The graffiti vanished, and burglaries stopped.

“I knew the teenagers who helped paint the walls weren’t going to touch them,” von Lindenberg said. “They were going to protect them.”

Instead of blaming local teenagers who may or may not have been part of the problem, von Lindenberg offered them the opportunity to become part of the solution. She influenced them; they influenced each other.

Most people cringe when they think of peer pressure and teenagers, but plenty of examples exist to prove that the influence kids have on each other can be quite positive. Those stories, unfortunately, don’t make front-page headlines very often.

Positive peer pressure can help instill healthy values, promote positive attitudes and actions and engender a spirit of unity and teamwork.

Though Jamie Morales had few positive examples in her childhood, she determined to become one for others.

By the time Morales was 7 years old, three of the people closest to her had died from AIDS: her godfather when she was 5, her uncle when she was 6 and her mother when she was 7. Her father also has the disease.

Morales, now 18, has a message for people, especially teenagers: “You can choose not to get AIDS,” she says.

When she was 13, she created a slide show to help other kids understand what it’s like to live with the disease. She’s taken her message to more than 17,000 people throughout the United States and in South Africa.

Influenced by many of the adults around her, Morales could easily have chosen to walk the same path and might have met with the same tragic consequences. While she had few opportunities to walk with the wise in her childhood, she has become one of the wise and exemplifies positive peer pressure.

The company we keep matters, and not just when we are children or teenagers. It helps shape and define us and in significant ways determines the steps we take, the moves we make.

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm” (Prov. 13:20).

Who are your walking companions?

Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

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